Community Chat: Philip Kalinowski of Kalin Design

Phil is the owner of Kalin Design, an independent creative studio, and consultancy based in Fremantle, Western Australia where he works as a freelance Graphic Designer and Artist.

Phil is the owner of Kalin Design, an independent creative studio, and consultancy based in Fremantle, Western Australia where he works as a freelance Graphic Designer and Artist.

He likes to think of himself as one of WA’s up-and-coming large-scale hand-painted mural, branding, and hand lettering specialists. He’s also an extremely proud West Aussie, Bunnings addict, and self-proclaimed table tennis master.

  1. So Phil, tell us what inspired you to start your business, and what steps did you take to get it off the ground?

Starting my own business was something I had always wanted to do and managed to establish in 2017 as a side hustle. My biggest hurdle was how I’d be able to make my business a full-time gig.

Towards the end of my Postgraduate studies in Design Thinking and Service Innovation in 2020 I was faced with the decision of either choosing the safe option; working 9-5 at an agency or to take a chance on myself and chase the life I had always envisioned.

At this time, an opportunity to move into a shared studio space with one of WA’s leading independent design professionals had come up, which I quickly jumped on. This inevitably exposed me to valuable industry networks and unique learning opportunities that looking back on now, I’m incredibly grateful for.

Ultimately, without even realising it, this decision became the first step into freelancing and operating my business full-time (way before ever feeling ready for it). Since then it’s been an absolute rollercoaster ride filled with highs and lows, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  1. What are three pieces of advice you'd give to someone just starting out in hand lettering/typography?

Being not all that far removed from where I first started in my journey to build a business and venture into hand-lettering and calligraphy, I can certainly relate to the desire of those just starting out to find that magic piece of advice.

Overall, my three biggest pieces of advice would be to;

1) Trust the process, as cliche as that may sound. The beginning is tough, you will constantly doubt your capabilities and more often than not become overwhelmed and frustrated. But if you trust the process, practice everyday and focus on your development; you’ll soon see the time you spent practicing, studying and analysing work its way into your process.

2) Enjoy the process. It's easy to get caught up in the game of self perfection, but it’s important not to lose sight as to why you started this in the first place.

3) Don’t get overwhelmed by socials like instagram and Pinterest - use it to your advantage. These platforms are designed only to show you the best of the best. It can be incredibly intimidating, even to someone who feels fairly confident in their abilities. Ensure you use them wisely and don’t become too reliant on them.

  1. Which design tools could you not live without, and why?

Without a doubt, the one design tool I could not live without is my laptop. My MacBook Pro is the one tool that allows me to do what I do, anywhere in the world. Opening endless opportunities to shape the lifestyle I want to live.

Followed closely by;

My iPhone (Notes app, Notion, Microsoft To-Do), having the availability to write notes and ideas down or take pictures of inspirations anywhere I go helps to drive my creativity and makes design conception super accessible.

HB pencil and sketch pad, having the ability to go back to a raw medium allows for ideas to be fleshed out in a way that just can’t be replicated within a digital space. More often than not my final designs are born from the mistakes or unique character that comes from inherently using a traditional medium.

iPad Pro, this tool paired with the Procreate software transforms development into a seamless process. Effortlessly moving from a rough concept sketch to a refined digital artwork and then a vector-based design, whilst still capturing the organic and fluid motions of a human hand is nothing short of a miracle! Particularly within my lettering pieces.

Headphones, not so much a design tool but more so a necessity to get the creative flow going.

  1. What do you find the most challenging about running your own business?

A large portion of my time outside of client projects is spent learning about how to run a successful business and looking for new ways to improve. Having come from a design background, I was never taught how to market my services to prospective clients, how to handle the financial side of running a business, or even simply how to talk to and engage clients.

Although I’d consider it a challenge, I enjoy the process of learning, understanding, and implementing strategies beyond the services that I specialise in. They allow me to optimise how I run my business and ensure I spend more time doing the things I love and not the things I don’t.

  1. How have you refined your processes over time? Are there any things you used to say 'yes' to in the early days of your business that you say 'no' to now? And why?‍

Without a doubt! At the beginning of my journey, I held a very common mindset found among young designers, that I should say “Yes” to everything, including free work.

For someone that is starting out with limited client experience and limited portfolio work for example, this method may be beneficial to accumulate some valuable experience. However, if done for too long this strategy actually does more harm than good as you begin to devalue your work, and as a result set unrealistic expectations for future clients.

Now, I no longer work with clients that don’t value nor appreciate the time and effort that goes into crafting unique design solutions and instead focus on developing positive relationships through offering referrals.

  1. Speaking of clients, who is your ideal client? Why?

My ideal clients are passionate small business owners - people (just like me) who want to make an impact and do good in the world in their own way. People who also value and appreciate good quality design and craftsmanship.

My ideal client has naturally progressed and refined over time. As I’ve learned what type of client works best with not only my process but also my values at Kalin Design. Focusing on quality and building a long-lasting relationship with my clients. 

This positioning has ultimately led to the development of a simple summary of my business approach, “Providing the ultimate satisfaction for those who want it done nice, not twice”.

  1. Are there any common questions/objections you get when you're in the phase of pitching your service? How do you answer them?‍

A lot of the work I do with prospective clients is essentially educating them on how I can help their business with my specialised skill set. Having this unique combination of graphic design, traditional sign painting, and mural painting opens a lot of doors to unique projects clients hadn’t even considered. Throughout this discussion, I often reference past clients, projects, and testimonials.

  1. I’m really keen to hear more about your day-to-day life, too. Are there any particular tools you use to help you stay on track, promote your business, manage your time, do the actual writing, etc?

The battle with procrastination and managing your business is a never-ending one however, there are a handful of helpful tools that I use to make life a lot easier.

For project management and general admin tasks I use:

  • Microsoft To-Do - General task management and planning.
  • Apple Notes - Ideas and note-taking.
  • Apple Calendar - Scheduling and organisation.
  • Google Meetup - Client meetings and presentations
  • Notion - Project management.
  • Spotify - When I need to concentrate.
  • Pomodoro Timer - For getting me focused.
  • Quickbooks - Managing finances.

For promoting my business I tend to stick to my socials and website:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Website

When creating my lettering pieces I often use a collection of tools but the main ones include:

  • Procreate - Digital drawing.
  • Adobe Suite - Designing.
  • Tombow Pens - Brush lettering.
  • Sketchpad and Pencil - Concept development.

  1. When it comes to the balance of client work vs working on your own business, what does that look like for you? Do you have any tips on staying motivated to give your own biz enough love amongst the client stuff?

I genuinely love working on my business. I remember when I was working on the development of my current logo, I loved the process so much I saw going to sleep as a chore. I looked forward to waking up just to get back at it.

Now, In saying that, I don’t condone unhealthy habits and I believe you should always prioritise your health first. But, that just illustrates how much passion I had and continue to have for this business. So I guess I’ve always found it fairly easy to work on the business side of things after hours once the client work has been dealt with.

Nowadays my business development is focused on growth and sustainability. Spending my time across all areas of professional development, marketing and research, and content development.

A big motivational aspect to that I believe, is my mental approach. I’m aware that every bit of effort I put in now will mean a better chance at a sustainable and long-term business.

  1. What are the 3 things people who are at the start of their self-employed journey should focus on to grow their business?

1) Document everything. Not only will this serve as a bank of valuable information for you to refer back to, but it’ll also be a great source of content for you to promote. People love seeing the process and the journey. It reminds them that there’s a real person there.

2) Seek professional advice. Making sure you’re properly set up to handle anything that comes at you is a really important step. Have a chat with trusted advisers to make sure you’re all covered and set to succeed for the long run.

3) Make sure you prioritise your health, burnout is real. The start of any business is one of the more stressful periods throughout the journey as you face waves of uncertainty, doubt, and crazy amounts of stress. Not only does this affect you mentally and physically but it also affects how you perform in relation to your business. Take breaks, get enough sleep, eat well and look after yourself.

  1. What resources do you turn to for inspiration, motivation, and business growth/development?

My go-to business and design development resource by far is TheFutur. This resource is one I recommend to all designers regardless of their experience. The content they go over on their channels teaches you all about business and design, discussing everything from how to price creativity to how to talk to clients. It’s invaluable!

For my design work, in particular, the staples including Pinterest, Behance, and Dribble have never let me down.

Books: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns, Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, and The Practice by Seth Godin.

  1. On the finance-y side of things, how long were you running the business before you started paying yourself? How did you get through those first few months?

Kalin Design at first was established as a side hustle amongst working and studying full-time. Although challenging, this is what allowed me to gain my footing and made the transition from side hustle to full-time, by no means easy, but at least a little less rough.

Since the beginning, I always made it a priority to pay myself what I could when possible.

  1. From a future-Philip perspective, I’d love to get your thoughts on super. Was super part of your 'business success' strategy from the outset? Is it something you only started doing once you felt comfortable with your earnings? Or is putting money into super still on your to-do list?

Contributing to my super and making the necessary steps to ensure I was set up for the future had always been a part of the business success strategy.

Realistically, in the beginning, it was often sidelined by more immediate and pressing priorities. It’s definitely still not perfect but it’s something I’m working towards and aiming to implement as a regular practice within the business.

The legends at GigSuper have been a big help here!

  1. Aaaaaand finally, what's one piece of advice you'd give your younger self?

Trust the process and do not get bogged down by comparing yourself to others. Having experienced this myself and from talking to other people within the design industry, a lot of us get sucked into the idea that our work needs to be absolutely perfect all the time and we often find ourselves comparing our abilities to people who have been in the game a lot longer. As a result we place these unrealistic expectations on ourselves which ultimately hinder our growth.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. Good things take time and if you trust in the process, you learn to live in the discomfort of uncertainty and one day things will fall into place without you even realising.


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